1.  But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

This mountain (actually more what we would think of as a large hill) was within easy walking distance of Jerusalem.  Thus, the Lord did not return home immediately upon the end of the feast.

2.  But early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.

Thus, even though the feast was over, His ministry in Jerusalem continued, and He taught the inhabitants of that city along with all who remained there after the closing of the feast.

3.  Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery.  And when they had set her in the midst,

There is no reason to suppose that this passage does not belong here.  It was an attempt to take the Lord following the failure of their officers to arrest Him.  Since their henchmen couldn’t do the job, these scribes and Pharisees decided that it was time to take matters into their own hands and to get rid of the Lord themselves.  Thus, they came up with this scheme for discrediting Him.

4.  they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.

Their hypocrisy is shown first off in the fact that they brought only the woman to the Lord.  As the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango.”  Where was the man who was involved with this act?  Apparently, he had gotten off free from this crime.  The religious leaders of the day had an obvious double standard in matters of marriage.  Women were held to the law, whereas men were excused for the same crimes.  Indeed, this is not an uncommon double standard, but one that exists in many cases even today.  Yet God’s law was clear about the matter.  Both the man and the woman were to die in such a case.  But the scribes and Pharisees weren’t concerned with keeping the law.  All they really wanted to do was to catch the Lord in a trap, and for that they only needed the woman.  Thus, their real motives are made plain.

5.  “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned.  But what do You say?”

This was not what Moses commanded in the law.  Rather, in Leviticus 20:10, He commanded, “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”  This law applied to both the man and the woman who committed adultery.  Yet without the man they had no proof that such an act had actually happened.  Since they could not produce the man, they had no proof of their charge that this woman had been caught “in the very act.”  Thus, they only had suspicion to bring against this woman, and suspicion was another matter entirely.  If they truly wanted to perform the law properly in regards to this woman, they would have had to produce the man.  Without him, their legal case had no leg to stand on.

6.  This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.  But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

What was the big trap that they were trying to set up?  For the Lord to have gone along with their suggestion that this woman should be killed, they would have asked Him to be the chief witness, perhaps even to throw the first stone against her.  This would have brought Him into direct contradiction with His Own claim, made in Luke 9:56a, “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”  Thus, they could have claimed that He was a hypocrite, and failed to practice what He preached.  By doing this, they could have discredited Him among the downtrodden and the sinners whom He was constantly standing up for, and could have smeared His reputation before the people.  But what if the Lord said that they should not stone the woman?  Then, they would have accused Him of seeking to overturn Moses’ law, and could have discredited Him before the people by claiming that He was a lawbreaker and did not honor the Scriptures.

This was the trap that they had laid for Him, and they thought that they had Him cornered.  Yet He did not respond like they thought He would.  Rather than answering one way or the other, or even hedging around and trying to find some way out of His dilemma, He ignores them entirely, as if what they were asking Him were unimportant.  He calmly stoops down and starts writing with His finger on the ground.  Surely this simple and seemingly inappropriate action must have dumbfounded the clever Pharisees, who were just waiting to match wits with Him and to twist whatever answer He gave them to their own ends!

7.  So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

This answer of the Lord’s was brilliant, and stopped these men in their tracks.  They all knew that they were sinners.  How could they act now without themselves appearing to be hypocrites?  The trap was suddenly turned around on the trappers, and there was nothing they could do to wiggle out of it except to let the matter drop.

This passage (along with Matthew 7:1) is one of the favorites to be used by those whom I like to call the “non-judgmentalists” in order to justify their views.  Christ’s refusal to condemn this adulterous woman is, they claim, our clear signal that we should not condemn sexual sins either, but should be very loving and understanding and forgiving of anyone who has made a “mistake.”  But is this really what the Lord was saying?

Remember, the Pharisees were not honestly approaching the Lord hoping for His teaching on a proper response to sin and the place of forgiveness.  Rather, they were trying to trap Him so that they could discredit Him before the people.  Thus, this was not the time for the Lord to set forth His teaching on adultery.  Rather, it was time for Him to outwit and thus rebuke these hypocritical Pharisees.  His point was not that we should be quick to forgive adultery or to pass it off as if it didn’t matter.  To take His words here as applying in all cases of adultery is to simply take His words out of the context in which they were given.

8.  And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

Many have speculated continually on what exactly it was that the Lord wrote on the ground here.  One idea I have heard is that He was writing each of these men’s sins on the ground to remind them that they too were sinners.  Another idea is that He was writing the numbers one through ten on the ground, corresponding to the ten commandments.  Then, when he got to the number seven for the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” He wrote it extra large on the ground.  Another idea was that He was writing out the verses in question that showed that these men were not being careful to keep the law correctly since they did not have the man with them, or that they were reading stoning into the case when really Moses only mentioned stoning in the case of a betrothed woman, and a test in the temple in the case of a married woman.  All these ideas, however, are pure conjecture.  Men can guess all they want, but guesses are simply that.

So, what was the Lord writing in the earth?  I cannot say exactly.  He might just have been doing what we call “doodling” or writing meaningless symbols in the ground.  Yet more than likely, He was writing something significant, and no doubt very appropriate to the situation.  But since the Scriptures do not tell us what He was writing, we can be assured that it is not important for us to know.  Yet what is recorded for us is the simple fact that He was writing in the earth, and this is the true message that the Lord wants us to learn from this passage.  He wants us to note that He was writing in the earth, and to go back to the Old Testament to find out what writing in the earth truly signifies.  Where in the Old Testament might we find what writing in the earth stands for?

I believe the answer lies in Jeremiah 17:13.  There, we read of the Lord writing something in the earth.  What is it that He writes?  It says,
“O LORD, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You shall be ashamed.
‘Those who depart from Me
Shall be written in the earth,
Because they have forsaken the LORD,
The fountain of living waters.”

This is what is to be written in the earth…those who depart from the Lord!  This is what should have gone through these men’s minds as they saw the Lord begin writing in the earth.  These men knew the Scriptures, and seeing Him calmly writing in the earth like this should have called their minds back to that important passage of Scripture in Jeremiah.  They might not have thought of it the first time when He did it, being so focused on trapping Him and so dumbstruck at what His response was.  Yet once He made reference to their own sin, their minds would have begun working, and this passage would have come to their memories.  The Lord was giving them a most solemn warning.  They had departed from the LORD, the fountain of living waters.  They were misusing His law, and tempting His Living Word.  They were in the most grave danger of becoming like one of those Jeremiah spoke about whose names are written in the earth!  This was meant to underscore the Lord’s statement in their minds and bring home to them their guilt.  Thus, His counter trap was sprung upon these men, and there was nothing they could do but surrender to it.

9.  Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.  And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

Unlike in our days, elders were respected at that time.  The elders of the scribes and Pharisees were the most respected men in all of Israel.  Yet these men are the first to admit that they have been stymied by the Lord.  Their bravado in taking Him on is crushed, and they go away just as defeated by His words as their officers had been in the previous chapter.  Once their respected elders have admitted their own guilt and gone away, the younger scribes and Pharisees have no choice but to follow them, filing out one by one until none of them are left.

Although it says that Jesus was left alone, we should not think what perhaps first comes to our minds: of an empty courtyard with only the Lord and the woman standing in the middle of it.  Remember, He had been teaching the people when the scribes and Pharisees had come in and interrupted.  They were the ones who had attacked Him, and now they were the ones who filed out.  Thus, what is meant by Jesus and the woman being left alone is that all the scribes and Pharisees had left them alone in the center of the crowd.  As it says, they were left “standing in the midst.”  In the midst of what?  In the midst of the people He had been teaching!  The people had no reason to slink away in shame like the religious leaders did.  Many of them no doubt heard His rebuke of the pious religious leaders with delight, and remained to hear the end of the matter and His conversation with the woman.

10.  When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”

Now that the accusers have been put to shame, the Lord must deal with the woman herself.  Yet remember that this is still a public matter.  What He might have said to this woman in privacy we cannot know, but what He said here was not just for her but to teach all those in the crowd who were still there watching.  We are not being let in on a private conversation here.

11.  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

None were left to condemn the woman, since all her accusers had been forced to admit their own guilt.  What is the Lord’s response, then?  He will not condemn her either.  Indeed, as He had said, He had not come to earth at that time for that purpose.  Yet how different will His next coming be!  Then, He will come “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  II Thessalonians 1:8.

Those who try to use this passage to teach that sexual sins are just a “mistake” and that we should not condemn them or we will be guilty of casting the first stone conveniently forget that this is not the last time that this woman will be standing before the Lord Jesus.  Remember, as He said in John 5:27-29, the Father has given Him the right to judge those who come forth in the resurrection.  And Revelation 21:8 tells us that the “sexually immoral” will have their place in the “lake which burns with fire and brimstone.”  This woman needed to heed the Lord’s command to turn from her sin.  If she did not, then she will have to face Him again, and His judgment then will not be so lenient.

Those who try to practice “non-judgmentalism” forget the grim punishment awaiting those who commit sexual sins and who know not the Lord.  When someone in the future is condemned to the lake of fire, will we truly wipe our brows and say, “Whew!  At least I never condemned that person for his sin.  At least I never warned him of God’s judgment against him.  At least I never judged him, or cast the first stone at him.”  Or will we rather feel guilty that we never warned this sinner to turn from his sin and receive the forgiveness that the Lord affords?

The Lord did not act like what this woman had done was not a sin.  He did not say that she had just “made a mistake,” nor did He admonish His disciples to be “more understanding” of people like her.  He did not acknowledge her as having made a legitimate “lifestyle choice,” nor did He command that she be “tolerated.”  Rather, He warned her solemnly to never again partake in the sexual sin she had committed.  In all the loving and forgiving of the non-judgmentalists, there is often no hint of a warning like this.  Yet is failing to warn those headed for destruction truly love?  Should we truly be tolerant of sin?  Or should we love sinners enough to risk “alienating” them or seeming “phobic” by telling them that they should cease from the wickedness they have been committing?  Should we pat ourselves on the back for not being judgmental, or should we warn those in danger of the wrath to come on those who do such things?  This is a question we all need to ask ourselves before we ever take up the nice-sounding arguments of the non-judgmentalists.

While there is some evidence for and some evidence against this passage, probably the best evidence for this passage has always been its internal character. Compared to most of the apocryphal works, this passage seems to ring true. It does not try to hit us over the head with an obvious message. It seems to be saying something about forgiveness and adultery, yet what exactly it is saying is open to question. It is subtle and thought-provoking, just as we would expect something written by God to be. Yet apocryphal works often wear their messages on their sleeves. Thus, it seems to be the sort of thing that we would expect God to write. In the final analysis, the character of the passage stands with the evidence for the passage to convince us that it is a worthy part of the Word of God, and one that we can learn and grow from reading.

12.  Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

The interruption of the Pharisees and scribes having been dealt with, the Lord returns to teaching the people.  He explains to them that He is the light of the world.  This word, in Greek phos (from which we get our word “phosphorescent,”) is the same word that was used for “light” back in John 1:4, when the author of this book told us that He is the light of men.  Now, the Lord Himself teaches the crowds that He is the light of the world.  The world here is the Greek word kosmos, which I explained earlier means “system” or “order.”  Indeed, this system or order of mankind on earth that we live in would not have any light whatsoever if the Lord Jesus did not shine His light into it.  How we can thank God that that light has shone into our lives as well!

Having introduced Himself as the light, the Lord makes a promise to those who hear Him.  He promises that he who follows Him shall not walk in darkness.  Many there are around us who walk in darkness, having not the light of the world in their lives.  Yet we who know Him have light.  Moreover, the Lord says that His followers have the light of life.  Life does not just mean this life we are living now.  In Greek this is “the” life, and means the life that is to come, a life that will be filled with the light of the Lord.  What a glorious Life that will be!

13.  The Pharisees therefore said to Him, “You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.”

These Pharisees had probably been in the crowd listening to Him, and were not a part of the group that conspired to trap Him with the adulterous woman.  Thus, they are still present to hear Him and oppose Him, unlike their counterparts who have slunk off in shame.  Thus they do confront Him, scoffing at His words by pointing out that He was bearing witness of Himself.  Since He did not have someone else to witness for Him, they claimed that His witness was not true.  It would be well if men were more skeptical in our day of those who witness great things about themselves.  All too often men believe them, and are led astray by their lofty and unsubstantiated claims.  Yet the Pharisees’ accusation was not good in this case, as the Lord will point out to them in the next verse.

14.  Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I came from and where I am going.

The Lord insists that His witness is true even if He bears witness of Himself.  As His first argument for this, He brings forth the fact that He knows where He came from and where He is going, while they do not know either.  This is the first problem with their skepticism…they did not know enough about Him to deny what He said.

Many here tend to think that the Lord meant “heaven” when He talked about where He came from and where He was going.  Yet I believe that what He meant was even higher than this.  What He meant here is that He had come from God, and that He was going to God.  This was the great truth that He knew that made His words true.  The fact that the Pharisees did not know this made their doubts about Him unfounded.

15.  “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.

Their rejection of Him was made according to their fleshly knowledge.  As such, it lacked in the true wisdom that comes from God.  The Lord, however, claimed to judge no one.  This is true, for He judged no man at His first coming.  It is in the future Kingdom of God when He will judge the world.  Yet He did not come the first time to set things in order in this world.  That is what He means when He says He does not judge.

16.  “And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father Who sent Me.

If He judges, His judgment is true, unlike that of the Pharisees.  Why is His judgment true and theirs is not?  Because He does not make His judgment on His Own.  Rather, He makes His judgment with the help of His Father God Who sent Him.  “Sent” here is the Greek pempo, and merely means that the Father sent Him into the world.  It is not the word for sending with authority, for He has already revealed that He is not using the authority to judge anyone.

17.  “It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true.

This is the second reason that His testimony is true even though He testifies of Himself.  It is true because He is not alone in His testimony, but He has another who testifies with Him.  Thus, His testimony meets the criteria given in the law that two men need to testify to something before it is to be considered to be true.

Notice that He calls the law “your law.”  This does not mean that it was written in the laws they made up rather than in the Bible, for this is indeed a Biblical principle.  What He means by “your law” is that the law was given to them, to the Israelites, specifically, and thus it was theirs (Acts 7:53.)  The Lord isn’t insisting that it wasn’t His law, for it was, but rather emphasizing that they were the ones who received the law since it was given to them.  Thus this rule was set down in their own law, and it is this rule that He appeals to to justify His testimony.

Many people seem to forget that the law was not given to anyone but Israel.  They make statements like, “We aren’t under the law anymore, but we’re under grace.”  This statement shows that they do not truly understand the law, for if they did they would know that we as Gentiles were never under the law in the first place!  We cannot say that “we” are no longer under the law for “we” were never given the law.  The law was given to the Israelites, and it was “theirs.”  Never, ever was it “ours.”  The fact that we are under grace now is indeed a great blessing, but it does not follow that we were ever under the law, for we were not.  That position was one that was only ever held by Israel.

18.  “I am One Who bears witness of Myself, and the Father Who sent Me bears witness of Me.”

Now the Lord lists the two who bear witness of Him.  They are both Himself, as they already knew, and the Father Who sent Him.  Since the Father also bears witness of Him, that is enough to provide Him with two witnesses, which makes His witness true according to the law.

19.  Then they said to Him, “Where is Your Father?”  Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor my Father.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.”

They must have assumed that He was talking about an earthly man who was His Father.  Thus, they ask where His Father is.  They probably wanted to talk to Him and hear His testimony, and if He really corroborated the Lord’s testimony.  This is thrown at the Lord as a challenge.  “Where is this Father Who You claim bears witness with You?”

Of course, the Lord was not speaking of a human Father.  Thus, He does not produce the Father of Which He speaks.  Rather, He accuses them of not knowing His Father.  They should have known Him, as He was their God and they claimed to serve and represent Him as the leaders of the children of Israel.  But they did not know Him.  This is proved by the fact that they did not know the Lord Jesus Himself.  If they had known Him, they would have known His Father also.  For, as He told Philip, one who has seen Him has seen the Father!  (John 14:9)

20.  These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.

This identifies for us the location where the Lord was as He spoke these words to them.  He was in the treasury of the temple.  Thus, He was not hidden away anywhere, or in some hard-to-reach place.  He was not teaching or speaking to the people in secret.  Rather, He was right out in the open, speaking boldly where all His enemies could hear Him.  Yet in spite of this, none of them dared lay hands on Him.  How can this be, when they hated Him so much and when they had all the power in Israel and could surely have arrested Him if they had so desired?  We know that part of the reason was His popularity, and that they were afraid to openly harm Him because of this.  But we also learn in this passage another reason.  They could not lay hands on Him for His hour had not yet come.  God had a certain time and a certain plan for when He was to be arrested and convicted to death.  Therefore, it was impossible for them to do anything to Him before this time had come.  Nothing they could do would be able to thwart the counsels of God!

The Lord had an exact plan laid out for His life by His Father.  Yet I do not believe that we should look at our own lives in the same way.  Just because this is true of our Lord does not mean that it is true of us as well.  We know that the Lord has a plan for our lives.  It is the same plan, however, for all men today.  That is the plan laid out for us in His Word.  To claim, however, that every hour and every major event in our lives is something that was planned out for us in advance by God is simply giving ourselves too high a place and our own lives too much importance.  There is no great plan of God going on in where we find a job, or where we might be going next Tuesday.  It was the Lord whose life was mapped out to this extent.  In our lives, however, we have choices, and the choices we make greatly affect what the outcome of our lives will be.  God does not overrule and force us into every path He wants us to take.  We have free choice, and God does not reveal to us what He would be having us do minute-to-minute like He did with Christ.  As long as these two facts are true, we cannot claim to have the kind of plan for our lives that our Lord had laid out for His.  To try to claim that we do have is to claim something that is un-Biblical and simply untrue.